Category Archives: Lutherans

Day 4: Final Day of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event & First Day of the ELCA Youth Gathering

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Today was our last day at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event.

After breakfast, we packed our bags and headed to our closing worship.

There, Pastor Yehiel Curry from Shekinah Chapel in Chicago led us in a Libation Ceremony.

The theme for MYLE today was “ONE in Christ,” based on:

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” – Ephesians 12:14-19

So Pastor Curry PREACHED about our oneness in Christ and reminded us that Christ brings down the walls of hostility that divide us.

“It is not black families alone affected by mass incarceration; we are affected by mass incarceration. Why? Because we are one in Christ.

The Virgin Islands, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Houston: ‘they’ didn’t have a hurricane; we had a hurricane. Why? Because we are one in Christ.

It is not just immigrant families being separated; we are being separated. Why?

Because we are one in Christ.”

He explained that if we want to create change, we need to start within us.

“When you change your heart, you can change your mind. When you change your mind, you can change your community. When you change your community, you can change your city. When you change your city, you can change your state. When you can change your state, you can change your nation. When you can change your nation, you can change your world.

When you can say this is my brother, this is my sister, this is my family: THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING! We are ONE in Christ.”

Pastor Curry explained that it is when we immerse ourselves with others who may look, speak, talk, and act differently than we do and get to know them, that we will begin to realize that we are more alike than we are different.

He saw this taking place at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event this week.

Pastor Curry said last night he saw black, white, Latinx, and Asian youth dancing together. And when we can dance together, share music and fellowship and call each other a siblings, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!

We ended MYLE with a blessing to go out into the world and proclaim Jesus’ peace and justice for ALL people.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting ready to head to the ELCA Youth Gathering main event.

At 2:00pm, we finally arrived at our hotel. And as we waited for our rooms, some of us swam and others watched some World Cup games.

We grabbed dinner nearby.

And then, since our hotel is in the Medical Center, we hopped on the metro rail as headed to the NRG Stadium for our first mass gathering.

With 30,000 youth and pastors/adult leaders gathering in one place, we had to do a lot of waiting… but we found lots of ways to bond while doing so!

Our first mass gathering was excellent!

We began with some fun music:

We were greeted by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton:

And throughout the night, we heard the ELCA Youth Gathering theme: “This Changes Everything.” We also heard this evening’s sub-theme: “God’s Call Changes Everything” through multiple call stories.

We worshipped together:

And then we heard a powerful message from Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. (He is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults.)

Bryan explained that our call is to change the world.

He explained that there are four things we need to do to change the world:

1. God calls us to get closer to the margins. There is power in proximity. We need to get close to those who are being excluded and suffering. This is how we can change the world.

2. When we see injustice we need to speak out and talk about/address our history of racial injustice.

3. We need to stay hopeful. This can be difficult because hope requires us to believe things we cannot see. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. It holds us back from doing what we can to make change.

4. We have to be willing to do things that are uncomfortable and difficult in order to pursue justice.

He concluded: “I believe with this room full of 1000s of young people who are willing to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, we WILL change the world.”

We concluded the gathering with more worship.

There is something s powerful about singing “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna Let it Shine” with 30,000 young people.)

We ended the evening with a lot of walking and waiting. But we found ways to make it fun!

We look forward to our first full day at the ELCA Youth Gathering tomorrow!

Day 3 of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event

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MYLE’s sub-theme for today is: One household, many rooms (John 14:2).

Again we started the day with “Jumpstart” and were led in powerful worship that celebrates the diversity of the Kingdom of God.

While each of us is different and has our own uniqueness to bring to the table, as one household, this is the sound of one voice, one people, one voice. A song for every one of us. This is the sound of one voice:

After worship, youth participated in affinity groups based on their racial identity. There, they heard stories and shared with one another about the shared joys and struggles they experience.

After affinity groups, we had some fun bonding over our lunch.

The rest of the afternoon included participating in Discovery Worship (a contemplative worship experience that included prayer and reflection stations), workshops, and small groups.

Following dinner, we headed back to our evening worship, which included global music, spoken word, and a beautiful reminder story given by Mary Huntington and a reminder to fill our full authentic selves.

You can view the full worship service here.

After worship, we bonded at community life activities:

You can hear more about our day from Jenny:

Day 2 of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event

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Our second day of the Multicultural Youth Leadership was packed with fun, worship, service, and learning.

After breakfast, we started out with “Jumpstart,” where the worship group “Ase” from Shekinah Chapel – an ELCA church in Chicago – led us in some incredible music to get us ready for our service learning project. (They rocked the house!)

And our very own Hope and Ngbarazere, helped lead us in dance!

Oh, and so did Jordan!

After Jumpstart, we hopped on a bus with a few other church groups to head to our service learning site.

Our group was assigned to work with the Prestige Learning Institute, which offers ESL classes and other skills classes to new immigrants and refugees in the immediate community. We ended up weeding and planting a community vegetable garden in the backyard of the home of one of the teachers at the institute. Refugee families from the institute will be able to work in the garden once a week and have free and fresh vegetables. Additionally, this garden will serve as a wonderful space for community building.

When we arrived, we were overwhelmed at how much weeding and work was to be done.

However, we got to work!

And made some new friends while doing so.

And despite the heat and the rain, we worked together and created a beautiful community vegetable garden! Shannon and her husband were so grateful for how much all of our hands could get done in one afternoon!

God’s work, Our hands!

After our work project and a little down time, we heard a really important story from Nomar, one of the MYLE volunteers who helped us with our service learning project today. Nomar is a college student in Puerto Rico, and he told us a little about what it’s been like as a Puerto Rican after the devastating Hurricane Maria.

Very little attention and media coverage has been paid to the stories of Puerto Ricans. So please listen to his story here:

Part 1:

Part 2:

After talking with Nomar, we did a little youth group bonding over dinner in the University of Houston dining hall.

Then we headed to the U of Houston’s Cullen Performance Hall for another night of amazing worship.

Today’s sub-theme at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event was: One mission, many gifts (1Corinthians 12:4-11).

Rev. Patrick Gahagan reminded us:

“YOU are a gift because of who you are, not because of what you do. YOU are a gift, not because of what you do, but because you ARE.”

At the end of worship, we heard from the pastors and leaders of the Latin American and Caribbean congregations that are attending MYLE. They presented a beautiful dance:

After worship, youth met with their small groups and then we gathered together to celebrate Graciela’s birthday!

Then we headed back to the Cullen Performance Center for an awesome talent show. Although there wasn’t enough time for them to perform in front of the entire group, Steve and Ngbarazere did a private performance for our youth group:

Go Darth Vader! (Steve wrote this song on his own! We are so proud of you!)

Finally, we ended the night checking in with each other about our day. We were so grateful to have Kalleb (college student, MYLE volunteer, and former E.C.T. Youth Group member) join us!

What a wonderful and blessed day!

Listen to some of the day’s highlights from Maku and Xanath:

Day 1 of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event

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Meet the 13 Edgewater Congregations Together youth, 2 young adult leaders, and pastor who are going to the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE).

MYLE is a pre-event to the triennial ELCA Youth Gathering, which “empowers multicultural youth groups, youth of color, and youth whose primary language is other than English to claim their story as God’s story” and to grow as leaders who serve and work for justice when they return to their home communities.

As described on the Youth Gathering website, at MYLE:

Culture is explored. Participants will experience an inclusive community that seeks to build understanding and appreciation of the various cultures and ethnicities that are a part of this church.

Leaders are formed. Youth and adults will learn about the issues in their communities and how to effect change.

Identity is claimed. Participants will be encouraged to uncover their story and live out their God-given calling in the world.

Faith is deepened. Youth and adults will explore the intersection of faith and life and how our faith calls us to act justly in the world.

Friends are made. Participants will connect with peers who are looking to build relationships and have a good time.

This year, the ELCA Youth Gathering and MYLE are taking place in Houston. So today our group started the day at 3:00am in order to catch our 6:10am flight.

Despite how sleepy we were, we still had a lot of fun bonding over new experiences (no matter how scary some of them were.)

Here, John and Maku talk about their first time flying (or first time flying since they can remember.)

And here’s the infamous first response video to the flight taking off…

We definitely had some fun times on our flights to Dallas and to Houston!

And then it became official! We finally arrived!

Once we landed, we took a shuttle to the University of Houston, which will be where we spend our time for the duration of MYLE.

And guess who greeted us and showed us around when we did:

(Kalleb, right, one of E.C.T.’s original youth group members and now incoming junior at Valparaiso University! He is serving as a volunteer for MYLE and the Youth Gathering.)

The theme for MYLE this year is “ONE,” based on Ephesians 2:14-19, which ends by staying: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”

Each day has a sub-theme, and today’s sub-theme is: “One body, many parts” based on 1 Corinthians 12:14-26. Each one of us matters, is important, has so much to offer the world, and is needed by God JUST THE WAY WE ARE!

Here, young adult leader (and former E.C.T. youth) Ngbarazere and youth Lillian and Hope explain some of the highlights of the day:

There were so many powerful moments during worship:

Following worship, youth broke out into small groups (which consists of youth from many different churches and locations.) They will meet with these small groups throughout the rest of our time at MYLE.

And of course, we had to end the evening with a little fun!

We can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us!

Guest Post at Conversations on the Fringe: “Lessons on the Ascension: From my very wise 6th-12th grade youth”

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Today is Ascension Day. Ever wonder what it is all about and what it means for us today?
 
We can learn a lot from my youth!
 
Check out some thoughts on the Ascension from many of my wise 6th-12th graders from over the years in my post at Conversations on the Fringe:
 
As Steve (who was a 7th grader when he preached) explains in his sermon: “[Jesus] calls his disciples to be his witnesses, not just witnesses, but witnesses to the ends of the earth. Now, what do you really think it means to be a witness? These disciples had seen some pretty amazing things and I think Jesus wanted these disciples to tell people what they had seen… So how [does this] form us in our lives today? To me, the end’s of the earth is at our Care for Real food pantry, which is only a few blocks away from here, where we are witnesses of God’s love when we help all of these hungry people get food and feel loved.”
 
As Ngbarezere (who was a freshman when he preached) proclaims: “Jesus said ‘And you will be my witnesses…’ How are we witnesses? With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be Jesus’ witnesses to all people – to follow in Jesus’ footsteps of loving the oppressed and standing up for justice and equality.”
 
And as Luz (who was a sophomore when she preached) shares: “I know at one point I was confused like the disciples, about how Jesus could just leave us, but honestly, he never did because he’s in you, and you and even you. Our Christ is everywhere.”
 
– You can read the rest here on my guest post at Conversations on the Fringe.

Guest Post at Conversations on the Fringe: “We Need the Cross”

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Today I’m writing over at Conversations on the Fringe:

When we skip over and avoid the cross, we miss out on a God who is with us in the flesh, walking alongside us as we walk what may sometimes be a long, lonely road.

But to skip out on the cross also causes us to miss out on a radical and bold Jesus we are all called to follow.  For, it was Jesus’ loud, subversive voice that challenged injustice and proclaimed on behalf of the “least of these” that got him into trouble in the first place and led him to be silenced on the cross.

You can read the rest here.

“Two Kinds of People In this World” – Sermon on Luke 18:9-14

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He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14

Someone once said: “There are only two kinds of people in this world – there are those who wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, Lord,” and then there are those who wake up in the morning and say, “Good Lord, it’s morning.”” (To be quite honest: I have to say that I am definitely the latter kind of person.)

“There are only two kinds of people in this world…”

We hear this saying fairly often.

According to author Alan Cohen, these two kinds of people are: “those who make excuses and those who get results.”

Marlo Thomas looks at this duality a little differently. She explains that the two kinds of people in this world are “the givers and the takers. The takers may eat better,” she explains. “But the givers sleep better.”

And of course, Woody Allen gives his two-cents, saying: “There are two types of people in this world: the good and the bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more.”

On the surface, the parable in Luke this morning seems to affirm this view that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who are like the Pharisee and those who are like the tax collector.

At the beginning of our passage, we see Jesus telling this parable to a group of people “who trust in themselves that they are righteous and who regard others with contempt.” In the parable, the Pharisee and the tax collector both go to the temple to pray. When the Pharisee sees the tax collector, he thanks God that he is not like other people: he is not like the thieves, the liars, the adulterers, or even that tax collector who is praying in the temple over there. He goes on bragging about how he does not just fast during High Holy Days, but he fasts twice a week and he gives away way more money than what is required of him – a tenth of all his income. The tax collector – on the other hand – can’t even look up to heaven. Completely repentant, he beats his breast and cries out to God: “Be merciful to me, a sinner!”

What happens in this parable is what many of us might expect would happen. We are so accustomed to hearing that the Pharisees are self-righteous and judgmental of others. We even sometimes refer to other Christians as “pharisaical” when they are being legalistic or hypocritical. And when we think of the tax collectors, we usually just think about how Jesus welcomed them – even though they were considered to be extreme outsiders by the faith community. And so it is not a surprise to us that Jesus finishes his parable by explaining that it is the tax collector who goes to his home justified rather than the Pharisee…

 “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,” Jesus concludes, “but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The message we are supposed to take away from this parable seems to be quite obvious. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are humble like the tax collector, and those who are prideful, hypocritical, and judgmental like the Pharisee. In other words, Woody Allen is right:

There are two kinds of people in this world: the good and the bad.  Tax collector = good. Pharisee = bad.  Don’t be like the Pharisee. Be like the tax collector. End of sermon. Amen. You can all go home now.

And this is a fairly easy sermon to hear and to accept.

Because, let’s just face it: it’s pretty easy to point out those self-righteous, prideful, and judgmental “Pharisees” we see around us, especially in times like these. While we might not have come right out and said this directly to God, haven’t there been times when we have at least looked around and thought to ourselves how thankful we are that we are not like those other people over there?

Those legalistic church-goers or those un-committed Christians. Those particular Lutherans or those evangelicals? Those Republicans or those Democrats?

And as we have thought these things, haven’t we also patted ourselves on our backs… I am welcoming, I don’t judge others. I am involved in church or in my community. I give my money to charity or do acts of service. I speak out when I hear homophobic, racist, or sexist comments or I march with community members when I see injustice.

In other words, as columnist Dave Barry says: “There are two kinds of people in this world, and I am one of them.”

But let’s wait just a minute… aren’t we doing the very same thing that the Pharisees are doing in Jesus’ parable in the first place…?

“God, I thank you that I am not like those other people, especially that Pharisee over there…”

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled,” Jesus says, “but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

No, this parable is not quite as straightforward or as easy to hear as we might have hoped.

And the thing is, there is a lot more to the stories of the Pharisee and the tax collector than what we may have first assumed.

You see, too often we give the Pharisees a bad rap. While they were not perfect and definitely made some mistakes (even pretty big ones at times), for the most part, the Pharisees tried to do the best they could. The Pharisees were actually progressives of their day. They maintained a liberal interpretation of Scripture and recognized that the Law could be adapted, based on the “changing conditions of life.” They cared about their faith, and they took it seriously. And they also actually cared deeply about their faith community – everyone in their faith community. Much like Martin Luther, they believed that everyone in the faith community – not just the priestly elites – should have access to the Torah and should be able to observe it. And so they advocated for and established a free, universal Jewish education system that was accessible for all – even the average everyday person. Sure, there were some Pharisees whose intentions and actions were not so great or even downright wrong. But this is the case when we look at every group of people. For the most part, though, the Pharisees meant well and were doing the best they could.

On the other hand, while the tax collectors were considered outsiders and were excluded from the Jewish community, we have to understand that the Jewish people had very understandable reasons for their distain toward them. You see, many of the tax collectors were Jews who were collaborating with the despised Roman Empire. The Jewish community viewed these tax collectors as traitors, who chose to help the oppressive government rather than fight it. Additionally, the tax collectors’ salaries were very high, which was quite a low blow to the Jewish community, who knew that the tax collectors were gaining their wealth off the backs of fellow Jews. To make matters even worse, it was fairly common knowledge that many of the tax collectors cheated the people they collected from – including those who were most vulnerable in society. They often took more money than they needed to take and kept the extra money for themselves. And yet, Jesus welcomed tax collectors, dined with them, forgave them, and offered them new life. And here in Jesus’ parable, we see a completely repentant tax collector going home justified.

So let’s just say, there is a little more to the story than we might have originally assumed.

And as we start to wonder where we might fit into this parable, maybe we need to reshape the way we think about this parable. Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is not: which of the two people might we be? But rather, maybe the question we should be asking is: when do we see ourselves as the Pharisee and when do we see ourselves as the tax collector (with all the complexities that make up their stories)?

Because maybe it is author Tom Robbins who has it right about the two kinds of people who are in this world: that there are “those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and [there are] those who are smart enough to know better.”

Because maybe, just maybe, there are not just two kinds of people in this world. Maybe there are multiple kinds of people who have complex stories and multiple parts to their identities.

Or maybe there is just one type of person in this world: human. Maybe – as humans – we are not either one type of person or another. Maybe we are both/and. Both Pharisee and tax collector. Both created good and in God’s image, and yet fallen at the same time. Maybe we are – as Martin Luther explained it – “simultaneously [both] sinner and saint.”

And maybe, while this is all true: each one of us – no matter how great a sinner and no matter how big our mistakes – is a beloved child of God, with the ability to be redeemed and transformed, by the grace of God.

I think this is something we must keep in mind at all times… and especially in times such as these.

During this incredibly contentious presidential campaign, I’ve seen a lot of nastiness… more than I have ever seen during a campaign before. There has been a lot of hate being thrown around.

And while there are definitely places where the hate is much stronger than in other places, the hate is not just coming from one side. It’s coming from all sides. And it’s affecting and hurting a lot people.

I was saddened the other day to read a Facebook post by an acquaintance who said he has decided to stop posting anything about politics for the rest of the election season because one facebook debate got so heated and so hateful that he lost a close friend of over 30 years because of it.

While as Christians – and as humans – we are absolutely called to speak out against any and all forms of hate, we are also called to do so with love. Yes, this may be a strong and firm love at times, but it is always love. And one way to love our neighbors with whom we so strongly disagree is to try to never lose site of their humanity.

To never forget that they – like us – are both/and.

To remember that they – too – are always – no matter what – beloved children of God.

We have been granted this incredible gift of grace. And so – too – have they. May we never forget this.  For, as Maya Angelou wrote in her poem called Human Family: “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

Amen.

Guest Post at Bold Cafe: “Faith Reflections: Beloved and Wonderfully Made”

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Today I am guest blogging over at Bold Cafe: “Faith Reflections: Beloved and Wonderfully Made.”

It is really hard to be a preteen or teenager today. I unfortunately know this because as a pastor who works with youth, I have seen this firsthand. I’m not saying that it wasn’t difficult to be that age. I received my fair share of unrealistic and unhealthy messages about society’s definition of beauty and who was worthy and who was not. All I had to do was watch a few VH1 videos, stop at the magazine rack at a convenience store, or listen to my middle school classmates who bullied me during lunch to know that I did not fit into society’s most-valued list.

However, it is much more difficult today to shut out the negative messages about who is deemed worthy in the eyes of society and one’s peers.

 

To read the rest, click here.

Why I Was Arrested at Moral Mondays IL:

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On Monday, June 29, 2015, two Lutheran pastors, two Methodist pastors, a rabbi, two community organizers, and a senior citizen got arrested for trespassing in the lobby of Citadel in downtown Chicago during a Moral Mondays Illinois action.

I was one of them.

…Sounds like a line of a joke, right?

Well, it’s not.

Illinois is in the middle of a crisis right now.  We are being told that it is a budget crisis.  However, I think the more accurate name for it is a revenue crisis (and what I like to call a moral crisis.)

Since July, we have not had a budget.  And because so many non-profit organizations and services have no money on the budget line, they are at risk of having to shut down programs and/or lay off staff.  And even if the current budget proposal does go through, budgets for many services and organizations will be cut, and thus those in our communities who rely on these services and programs will greatly suffer.

I serve as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households for three ELCA congregations in Edgewater, a community that is home to a large population of immigrants and refugees. As a pastor who works with many refugee and immigrant youth and families, I am well aware of the multiple hurdles and struggles these families (who have already been through so much severe trauma) face as they transition into a new country and culture. Refugee resettlement and immigration organizations help these families with job placement, finding affordable housing, gaining citizenship, English language assistance, and wellness programs that help meet their mental health needs. They provide these families with referrals to food pantries, utilities subsidies (LIHEAP), and low-income clinics, as well as help families apply for medical cards, childcare, and food stamps. RefugeeOne is one of the major refugee resettlement organizations in Chicago, receiving around 500 new individuals a year. Several families I’ve worked with have greatly benefited from the services offered by RefugeeOne, and many youth and children I’ve worked with have attended the RefugeeOne after-school program, which meets at Unity Lutheran Church, one of my congregations.

About 70% of RefugeeOne’s funding comes from the government, much of which is from the state. With the proposed cuts to immigration services, the organization could see program closures and staff layoffs. Similarly, Centro Romero, an immigrant and refugee assistance organization that serves many families in my community, was forced to lay off four of their staff and close their Family Service Program in early August because there is no money on the immigration budget line. The potential closures of such crucial programs and services are absolutely devastating for those who are already in dire need. These cuts will greatly impact the wellbeing of so many refugee and immigrant families in my community, as well as those who will be resettled here soon (including the thousands of Syrian refugees who are expected to be resettled in Chicago in the next few years.)

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This May, grassroots organizers and clergy of many faith traditions got together and discussed how we were going to respond to this moral revenue crisis.  Inspired by the Moral Mondays movement in NC, we started the Moral Mondays IL movement, which began a series of actions in Chicago that included prayer, faith teachings, and biblical stories/images and called our state legislators to create a moral budget.  We are calling our legislators to raise progressive revenue by closing corporate tax loopholes, having a fair graduated income tax, and taxing financial transactions on Illinois exchanges (which could raise billions of dollars and could help us avoid cutting crucial programs and services). 

Many of my parishioners have been participating in the Moral Mondays IL actions regularly throughout the summer – both because they feel their faith calls them to and because of personal reasons.  Several of my parishioners have participated in these actions because they or their family members will be affected by cuts to Medicaid, mental health services, home-care services, and LIHEAP (Low-Income Housing Assistance Program.) One of my seniors has been particularly active in these actions – even participating in civil disobedience in June. Her daughter is bi-polar and is on Medicaid. However, the proposed Medicaid cuts will cut a portion of her medication. She will not be able to afford this medication on her own and will thus rely on her mother (my senior) for help, who is already financially strapped since her only source of income is Social Security. These are just a few of the many examples of how the budget impasse and proposed budget cuts are affecting the seniors, youth, children, and families at my congregations and in my community.

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I’ve been active in Moral Mondays IL actions, standing with and marching alongside my parishioners and community members, and I participated in civil disobedience at Citadel this June because the proposed state budget cuts (and the current budget impasse) are already devastating so many of our children, youth, families, and seniors.

It is despicable that there is so much money in the hands of the most wealthy in our state – including our governor and many of his top financial supporters like Citadel’s CEO Ken Griffin, who makes $90,000 per hour – and yet instead of raising new progressive revenue, our governor and his buddies have chosen to balance the budget on the backs of those in our communities who are most vulnerable!

Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

In the psalms we hear God’s call to: “Defend the cause of the weak and orphans; to maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. To rescue the weak and needy; to deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4)

In Proverbs we hear God’s voice proclaiming: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13) “…[Therefore] speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9)

In Leviticus, we hear God’s command to redistribute wealth.  “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:22)

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On Monday, June 29, 2015, two Lutheran pastors, two Methodist pastors, a rabbi, two community organizers, and a senior citizen got arrested for trespassing in the lobby of Citadel in downtown Chicago during a Moral Mondays Illinois action.

I was one of them.

Because my faith proclaims that ALL people are beloved children of God and deserve to live holistic and healthy lives.  It calls me to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God, and to take action with and for those who are being pushed to the margins and trampled on until we do have justice for ALL.

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If you are in Illinois, please join the movement.  Educate yourself on what is going on with our budget and revenue crisis.  Listen to the stories of your neighbors who are being impacted by these proposed cuts.  Follow Moral Mondays IL on Facebook and march with us in our upcoming actions.  (Our next action is this Monday, November 2 at 10:30am at the Thompson Center.)

So join us in saying “Enough is Enough!  Love thy neighbor as thyself: tax the rich and share the wealth!”

“Welcome One Such Child. #WelcomeRefugees. A Call to Radical Hospitality” – Sermon on Mark 9:30-37

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Welcome-Refugees

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” – Mark 9:30-37


Her name is Diana. She is four years old. And she has traveled with her mother and father, who are Christians from Damascus, Syria, for 15 days, mostly by foot to get to Germany. Every night, they sleep on the streets – in the cold and sometimes in the pouring rain. They have made it to Hungary, but the Hungarian police want the families to board a bus and be taken to a detention camp, where refugee families are crammed together behind fences and sometimes even inside cages. One Hungarian detention camp has been known for its police officers to throw food to the families in the cage. One reporter described this scene: it is “like feeding animals in a pen.” Some of the families decide they will try to run away so they can avoid the detention camps and continue their journey toward Germany. But Diana’s mother, Rowa, knows they would likely be chased by police officers and in their condition, they wouldn’t make it very far. Since Diana has become ill and has come down with a terrible fever, her parents decide that while they have come so far and are so close to safety and freedom, they have no other choice than to get on the bus with their daughter, and be placed in a camp. And so now four-year-old Diana, who has not been welcomed in her own home country of Syria, who is not welcomed to make Hungary a place to call home, is now not allowed to move on to a country that would welcome her as one of there own.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

This is what Jesus said to his disciples in today’s Gospel passage in response to one of their many misunderstandings.

At the beginning of our passage, as the disciples are journeying through Galilee on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection for the second time. But the disciples still don’t understand. And now, after they enter the house in Capernaum, Jesus reveals that the disciples have completely misunderstood Jesus’ values and what it means to follow him as one of his disciples.

“What were you arguing about along the way?” Jesus asks them. But the disciples remain silent, because they had been arguing about who among them was the “greatest.”

Now, I can’t completely blame these disciples. You see, as is the case today, in First Century Palestine, to be deemed the greatest was based on social status: the most successful, the most wealthy, the most popular, the best educated, the most privileged. To be the greatest meant – and still often means today – to have power over others. In such a system both in First Century Palestine and 21st Century North America, it can be quite difficult for any of us not to constantly seek to be the one first in line. And when those we deem as the “others” or as the “strangers” among us enter our territories (and our homelands) and seem to threaten our comfortable lifestyles and our paths to climb the social latter, we are often tempted to demonize them and to turn them away. To deny that they – too – are made in the image of God. To refuse to recognize the face of God in them.

Yet, Jesus has a different way to greatness in mind.

And so he sits down on the floor of the home, calls the twelve to gather around him, and responds: “Who is the greatest of all? Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

For Jesus, the way to greatness is not to BE first, but to put others first. To live as servants, providing love and grace to those around us. To put the well-being and basic needs of others in front of our own wants, our sense of security, and our temptation to get ahead.

For the disciples living in First Century Palestine, this was completely radical. And it is probably pretty radical for many today, as well.

But just as the disciples begin to wrap their minds around this counter-cultural way to greatness Jesus is describing, Jesus does something even more radical.

He picks up a child, places her in the middle of the disciples, embraces her, and says: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.”

Now to many of us, this may not sound too off-the-wall. We live in a culture that – for the most part -values children. And we know quite well that throughout his ministry, Jesus loved and embraced and surrounded himself with children. However, in First Century Palestine, children were only valued in their future, when they became adults… if they became adults – for many children never survived past their young years. In their childhood, they were considered more of a burden than an asset to the rest of the family. They were another mouth to feed and body to cloth. They were the silent ones, the least of these, those who were the outcasts of society.

So here we see that Jesus’ way to greatness is extremely radical. His path to greatness in this Kingdom of God he often speaks of is nothing like the path to greatness in the oppressive Roman Empire of his day. Jesus’ path is not about climbing the social latter and befriending and caring for only those who have something to offer us.

Rather, Jesus’ path to greatness is servanthood. It is putting our selves last so that others who’ve been last can be brought into the frontline. It is picking up and embracing those whom the world deems as the last and the least, the others, the strangers, those on the margins of society and bringing them to the center with our loving embrace. It is welcoming one such child, and thus in doing so, welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him.

It is radical hospitality.

*****

When I first read this text early this week in preparation for this sermon, I immediately thought of our current refugee crisis, which has become the worst refugee crisis since World War II. This recent mass flight (or as some are calling it: this “refugee exodus”) to Europe has especially overwhelmed my thoughts, emotions, and prayers this past month.

It’s been beautiful to see that many around the world are offering radical hospitality to our brothers and sisters who are desperately seeking refuge. I’ve been brought to tears watching thousands of grateful refugees get welcomed by cheering Germans holding signs saying “Welcome to Germany” and while reading posts and stories from people who are urging their home countries to receive and resettle more refugees by making the hashtag #WelcomeRefugees go viral.

And yet, the stories of these families making the dangerous and exhausting trek to and through Europe and the images and videos of children sleeping in the streets, walking for days on end, and crying and pleading with officers who will not let them continue their journey toward safety: these stories and images have touched my core.

And when I saw an image that went viral of the lifeless body of three year old Aylan Kurdi who was swept up on the shores of Turkey during his journey from Syria by boat, I was brought to my knees and wept.

And to know that there are so many more stories of families we don’t hear about and faces of children we don’t see who are displaced and stuck in Syria as well as in other countries around the world – and even at our own border – because of war, violence, and poverty… This overwhelms me with grief.

Because these stories and the faces of these children are the stories and the faces of our children. They are the stories and the faces of our children and youth who are involved in Edgewater-based programs like Refugee One and Centro Romero and who play soccer and music at Edgewater’s International Refugee Day at Foster Beach every June. These are the stories and the faces of the children and youth in our communities: they are our neighbors. They live in our buildings, go to our schools, shop in our grocery stories, eat at our restaurants. And they are the stories and faces of the children and youth who enter our doors here at Immanuel Lutheran Church for worship, VBS, IYO, and ECT youth group.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

As we hear these words of Jesus from Mark, we might also hear his words from Matthew echoing in our ears:

“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Jesus, our Comforter, our Lord and Savior, who was once himself a refugee, calls us to this radical hospitality of welcoming and embracing the child, the stranger, the one who’s been outcast.

*****

If you are at all like me, you might be a bit overwhelmed with this huge crisis and wonder how on earth you are to welcome those seeking refuge across the world.

While we may not be able to single-handedly fix what is happening in Europe, in Syria, and across the world, there are many ways we can respond to the international refugee crisis and provide welcome to those in need around us. (And every act is important.) For example, we can donate to organizations like the Lutheran Disaster Response, which directly helps those seeking refuge in Europe and in Syria, and we can voice our support for welcoming more refugees in our city and our country.

We can also extend our welcome here in our own community, a community that is home to so many of our refugee and immigrant brothers and sisters. We – at Immanuel Lutheran Church – already open our doors to children and youth in our community through the multiple programs and ministries we offer, and we are in the process of trying to offer more hospitality to the children, youth, and families in Edgewater – as we currently are working on opening the Immanuel Ministry Center.

And so each one of us has an opportunity to provide radical hospitality to children and youth in Edgewater right here by voicing our support and praying for our ministries and programs, donating our gifts or money to help these ministries, becoming a tutor or a leader at IYO or ECT youth group, or cooking dinner for one of these youth programs.

We can donate to or volunteer with Care for Real, Edgewater’s food and clothing pantry, which serves many new refugees in our community or we can help a new refugee family resettle in our community and help them learn English or write resumes through Refugee One, which is also based in Edgewater. We can take a few minutes to get to know the children and youth who attend Immanuel worship on Sunday mornings or one of our programs throughout the week. And in all things, we can keep the children and youth in our community, in our country, and throughout the world in our prayers and in our hearts.

Because, what Jesus said to his twelve disciples in the house in Capernaum 2000 years ago, he says to us as well:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

May we welcome the children. May we #welcomerefugees. May we welcome the strangers and those who have been outcast. May we choose to be a people of faith who follow Jesus in this call to offering radical hospitality to our brothers, sisters, and children in need of welcome.